Accessibility & Accommodations On Campus - Naomi's Story

Naomi Litwack, University Of Toronto 2019

In the summer before my first year, I was informed that I had been assigned to the residence that I had placed dead last on my ranking. I had given it that position because it is the only off-campus residence, a 15-minute wall away in the heart of busy downtown. My late night walks home would therefore not be passing by safe, university buildings, but instead the closed restaurants and shops of downtown. While Toronto is much safer than many cities around the world, it’s still enough to make a first year student quite uneasy. Especially a diabetic one.

Visualize this: I’m studying late at night at Robarts library or working on my studio project at the Daniels Faculty. Feeling satisfied with my progress for the evening, I pack up for home. A minute or so after shutting the door behind me and meeting the Siberia-life Toronto air, I realize my blood sugar is low.

Were I assigned a residence on campus, it would be fewer than five minutes until I’d be safely in my room, the source of backup supplies. If I did need to stop, I could easily slip back into a university building to get my glucose tablets. But my residence was more than fifteen minutes away, through downtown’s closed businesses. Worse still, if I was out of glucose tablets for my long walk home, I could enter a very dangerous situation.

I had indicated my status as a diabetic on my residence application, but decided to call the office again to reiterate and see if I could change. They told me they couldn’t do anything and to call the residence I’d gotten into. I wasn’t sure how well the residence I didn’t want to be in could help me not be in it, but I called them. They told me they couldn’t do anything and to call the residences I’d rather be in. That made sense. I called four residences that seemed better suited for me. Two told me flat out that they couldn’t help me, greatly annoyed that I had called with such a ridiculous request. The other two told me to sign up for the waitlist, though few people ever get in off the waitlist. One of those two recommended I talked to Accessibility Services. Of course! I thought. That’s precisely what that office is for, isn’t it? I called them.

I was told it was not what it was for. “Accessibility Services doesn’t deal with residences, sorry.”

I couldn’t believe it. A long dance of phone calls and disappointing news only to find out I would not be accommodated and could not safely live in residence to find community and make amazing memories. That year, I lived with my aunt and uncle and their two daughters and dog, located much closer to campus than the residence. I frequently joked about being the Fresh Princess of the Annex (their neighborhood), but secretly I yearned for the residence experience I would never have. After two lovely years with my family, I moved into a cozy apartment in Chinatown with a close friend.

A year after this phone tag, when I finally decided I needed accommodations for other aspects of university, my Accessibility Services advisor gave me some startling news. It turned out that the office very much did deal with residences, quite a lot actually. So it goes.